College World Series: Virginia looks to break favorites' title drought
OMAHA, Neb. (WJLA/AP) - The last time the top overall national seed actually won the College World Series was 1999, as noted by Fox Sports, when the Miami Hurricanes pulled it off.
Virginia has also been in that spot before and it didn't end well. The Cavaliers were the top seed in 2011 and were bounced in the semifinals.
Now in 2014, Virginia is considered by many the favorite to win this CWS. The Cavs, the double-elimination tournament's highest-seeded team at No. 3 overall, fought off the ghosts of Omaha on Sunday night in a 2-1 win against Ole Miss.
With one swing of the bat, Mike Papi delivered a victory for Virginia in its CWS opener and kept a sensational pitching performance from potentially going to waste.
Papi's RBI double into right-center with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning gave Virginia the 2-1 victory. The Cavaliers' win came as Nathan Kirby and Artie Lewicki combined for the first one-hitter at the CWS in 31 years.
"I'm playing for the guys next to me. I'm doing everything I can to get the job done," Papi said. "When we have two guys like Nathan and Artie do a fantastic job and only give up one hit, our offense needs to put it together and give them more run support."
The win sent Virginia (50-14) into a winners game against TCU on Tuesday night. Ole Miss (46-20) meets Texas Tech in an elimination game in the afternoon.
"I thought they outplayed us tonight," Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. "Not by much, but enough to make a difference, especially in this tight of a ball game."
Virginia was just 1 for 13 with runners in scoring position when Papi went to the plate in the ninth. The Rebels elected to pitch to the Cavaliers' top hitter and RBI leader even though first base was unoccupied.
Aaron Greenwood (3-2) ran the count full before Papi drilled the ball into the gap, allowing Nate Irving to score from second.
"We kept getting opportunities and couldn't get that big hit to tack on some more runs," Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said. "I guess we saved it for the dramatic there in the ninth."
Lewicki (2-0) earned the win after Kirby gave up one hit and one run over seven innings. Ole Miss converted two walks and a groundout to tie it in the eighth.
The one-hitter was the first since Alabama's Alan Dunn and Tim Meacham combined for one against Arizona State in 1983, and came after Kirby had pitched poorly and took the loss in last week's super-regional opener against Maryland.
"Last week I left a bunch of pitches up, and they made me pay for it," Kirby said. "This week I just wanted to completely turn the page and get out there and attack and force them to beat me, and fortunately for me it went my way."
The Cavaliers had used three singles and a walk to produce a run in the fifth and then hoped Kirby could take them the rest of the way. Ole Miss' only hit against Kirby was Errol Robinson's single leading off the third.
Rebels center fielder Auston Bousfield had kept Virginia from taking a three-run lead in the seventh when, with two runners on, he made an over-the-shoulder catch of Derek Fisher's fly to end the inning.
That big defensive play put the Rebels in position to tie it after Kirby, who had retired 14 of the previous 15 batters, walked Sikes Orvis and Colby Bortles to start the eighth. Lewicki came on, the runners moved over on a sacrifice and then pinch-hitter Holt Perdzock made it 1-1 with his RBI groundout.
Rebels starter Chris Ellis allowed six hits, walked four and struck out three in six innings. Jeremy Massie entered with a runner on base and none out in the seventh and, thanks to Bousfield's spectacular catch, got out of the seventh unscathed.
Greenwood pitched a perfect eighth but walked Irving to start the bottom of the ninth. Branden Coswell moved him over with a sacrifice. After Daniel Pinero struck out, Papi delivered his game-winning hit to spark Virginia's celebration.
Bianco didn't second guess his decision to have the right-handed Greenwood pitch to Papi, the first of three straight lefties in Virginia's batting order. Bianco said he was short of left-handers in the bullpen and that he had confidence in Greenwood.
"He's been our guy," Bianco said.
Still, he said, "It's not the place you want to be with the winning run at second base."